Why Casemiro Will Provide Real Madrid's X-Factor in Remaining Weeks of Season

Tim Collins@@TimDCollinsFeatured ColumnistMarch 11, 2016

Roma's forward from Bosnia-Herzegovina Edin Dzeko (L) vies with Real Madrid's Brazilian midfielder Casemiro during the UEFA Champions League round of 16, second leg football match Real Madrid FC vs AS Roma at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid on March 8, 2016. / AFP / JAVIER SORIANO        (Photo credit should read JAVIER SORIANO/AFP/Getty Images)

This was the ingredient that had been missing until this point, and now introduced, a template had been set. 

Sixty-three minutes were up on the clock at the Santiago Bernabeu, and having gone three goals down to Real Madrid, an-always dangerous Celta Vigo had given themselves hope through Iago Aspas. At 3-1, they weren't done; not yet. 

Not until it happened. 

On the right flank in his own half, Celta full-back Jonny played the ball infield to Nemanja Radoja seemingly in three or four yards of space. But suddenly there was no space; flying in to press, Casemiro laid a tackle and pinched the ball, bouncing up with Radoja still sat on the ground. Immediately, Casemiro fed Lucas Vazquez, who fed Isco, who fed Cristiano Ronaldo. 


Game over. 

On a day that featured a Ronaldo explosion, this was undoubtedly the least specular of Real Madrid's seven goals but was perhaps among the most significant. Instead of raw individual brilliance—a quality Madrid have in abundance but has to be used to cover too many systemic flaws—this was a point of difference in being a move of simplicity, teamwork and sound principles. 

Through Casemiro's intensity and discipline, Madrid's opponents had been caught in their own half. They hadn't been allowed to play, create. Pressure had been applied. Madrid had done what Madrid rarely do and had made life easier for themselves by suffocating their visitors. 

This is what Real Madrid need more of. 

MADRID, SPAIN - NOVEMBER 3: Casemiro of Real Madrid in action during the UEFA Champions League match between Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) at Santiago Bernabeu stadium on November 3, 2015 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by Jean Catuffe/Getty Images)
Jean Catuffe/Getty Images

In the lead-up to that outing at the Bernabeu, Marca had posed a question that initially struck as forced but concurrently felt relevant, too: "Casemiro, Zizou's Makelele?"

It was a lofty comparison but there are similarities: the ruggedness, the engine, the get-the-hands-dirty mentality, the contrast to those around him and the sense of him being a counter-balance. 

Against Levante only days earlier, some of those elements had been on show after a lengthy period on the sidelines for the Brazilian. When Celta arrived, more of those elements were on show—perhaps only against Atletico Madrid in the season's first capital derby had the midfielder been better. 

"Casemiro convinces Zidane," said Marca this time, and it's important that he has and that he does. 

For new boss Zinedine Zidane, the remaining weeks of the current campaign will be an intriguing period. Twelve points back of a rampant Barcelona, Madrid have already waved goodbye to another league title—"another" is the key word here—and, so they say, have only the Champions League to play for. 

But that's not entirely true. 

With 10 matches still to play in La Liga, Madrid have an opportunity to start building something—an encompassing idea, a method—that can form a foundation for next season. This is Zidane's chance to put his stamp on this team, to mould it in his image and to create something potentially sustainable, the vanquished title hopes freeing him to look further ahead than would otherwise be possible. 

Casemiro is central to this. Since the acquisitions of Toni Kroos and James Rodriguez in 2014, Madrid are now almost two seasons into a playmaker-heavy experiment/marketing drive—two seasons that have proved this model doesn't work. At all. 

Paris Saint-Germain's Argentinian forward Angel Di Maria (L) vies with Real Madrid's Brazilian midfielder Casimiro (C) and Real Madrid's German midfielder Toni Kroos (R) during the UEFA Champions League group stage football match Real Madrid CF vs Paris S

Time and again, Madrid have been shown to be top-heavy, out of whack and chronically vulnerable because of a midfield that lacks two-way qualities. In Kroos, James, Isco and Luka Modric, there's an abundance of on-the-ball skill but little else. 

Casemiro, though, can address the imbalance. The only true defensive midfielder in the squad, the Brazilian can give Madrid much of what they lack with his physicality, positioning, work rate and collective conscience.

For the final 10 games of the league season, an idea or method that includes Casemiro needs to be devised—as Brazil manager Dunga put it this week to Esporte Interativo (h/t Goal.com): "Someone has to carry the piano for Real Madrid"—the success of a potential Madrid revival in 2016-17 hinging on the club's ability to start building something with balance now

There are short-term needs, too. 

Having progressed past a wasteful Roma and into the Champions League quarter-finals, Madrid are now only four games and perhaps only three of four defining moments from the competition's finale. Though they're deeply flawed, Zinedine's men carry a puncher's chance, the tournament's nature lending itself to the sporadically brilliant. 

Madrid are that, but they will be blown away unless changes are made in the middle, balance prioritised. Barcelona have already shown them that this season; Bayern Munich carry a similar threat; Atletico Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain have shown them they're not intimidated at all. 

Before the recent trip to Levante, Casemiro had played just 21 minutes for the calendar year. Now, though, he might stand as the potential difference, the X-factor, for the remainder of it. 


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